Supervisors not keen on new restrictions on land developers

Stonegate, an apartment community in Zion Crossroads, is an example of recent residential and commercial development in Louisa's growth areas. Supervisors and county staff sometimes negotiate with developers for enhanced architectural features for new buildings. But there are currently no minimum standards for such features in the county code.

The county’s elected officials like seeing new development in growth areas like Zion Crossroads. But they don’t necessarily agree on the best way to make that development look pretty.

Board members debated at a July 27 work session whether to impose overlay zones within growth areas with enhanced requirements for site landscaping and architectural features for buildings. The zones would line up with areas designated in the county’s comprehensive plan for mixed-use and industrial development. The underlying zoning, whether agricultural, residential, commercial or industrial, would stay the same.

Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes (Patrick Henry District) said he was skeptical of anything that might put an additional burden on developers. 

“We wouldn’t have had the Best Western or I-Hop come here with an overlay zone because the small investor wouldn’t have had it in their budgets,” he said. “Some of this will add cost, and we can’t forget where we came from.”

Jeff Ferrel, assistant county administrator, said developers he and the county’s community development staff are working with in Zion Crossroads seem happy to add more trees to their site plans and to commit to minimal architectural features. 

He presented a landscape plan prepared by the developer building the Hampton Inn on James Madison Highway (Route 15). Initially hotel officials proposed a small number of trees, Ferrel said, but when county staff asked for more, there was no pushback. 

“The extra landscaping for a large developer is not terribly burdensome,” he said. “Developers are more likely to want to locate next to a property with nicer landscaping, and you end up with a higher-dollar development.”

Andy Wade, the county’s economic development director, said he didn’t think developers would have an issue with what the community development staff is proposing.

Developers in Zion also seem to have little problem with some requirements to use certain building materials to make facades look brighter.

“You’ve got to have some level of quality materials all the way around the building,” Ferrel said.  

Community members who attended public meetings on the revised comprehensive plan in 2019 seemed to support imposing landscaping and architectural requirements, Ferrel said. But he added that what Louisa County is proposing is minimal compared to the requirements in some other localities, citing Powhatan County as an example.

Board Chairman Bob Babyok (Green Springs District) said when he talked with officials from Waffle House about the design for their proposed restaurant in Zion Crossroads, they revealed they had numerous architectural options to choose from.

“They want our advice on what will succeed in our environment,” he said.

“They’ll also tell you, if you ask, which localities are a pain in the butt,” Barnes responded.

Ferrel said, while many developers seem amenable to requests to make their properties look nice, others won’t necessarily do so unless there is something in the county code that says they have to. 

“You can’t rely on them to open up their wallets and do this,” Ferrel said.

If the board decides not to implement overlay zones, an alternative is to upzone targeted parts of growth areas. For example, areas of Zion Crossroads that are now zoned C-2 could be rezoned to a new C-3 zone with different landscaping and building rules. But Ferrel said county staff don’t like that idea.

“My concern is overkill,” said Supervisor Willie Gentry (Cuckoo District). “When I go to McDonalds, I don’t think, ‘This building sure does look lousy.’ I’m going there to get a hamburger.”

Agriculture in growth zones

The board also discussed making it more clear that agriculture, or some form of it, is allowed in every zoning district, even in growth areas where future plans call for commercial or industrial development.

The issue came up when Supervisor Toni Williams (Jackson District) objected to the fact farming is not clearly allowed in non-agricultural zoning districts. He suggested adding language to the code that says farming is permitted by-right in residential and commercial areas unless a landowner wants to build a new structure, such as a barn.

As a solution, Ferrel said staff divided agriculture into two categories: passive activity and agricultural operations. Unless a principal building or structure is proposed, farming would be considered passive and allowed in all zoning districts. With passive farming, animals could not be kept within 100 feet of an adjacent property line; for temporary or mobile farm structures, the minimum distance would be at least 250 feet.

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